Dental visits tied to lower risk of head and neck cancer

2022 10 31 15 06 8953 Cancer Cell 400

Visiting the dentist may reduce one's risk of head and neck cancer, according to a new study. Researchers analyzed the relationship between the time that had elapsed since patients' most recent dental visit and a diagnosis of head and neck cancer. The results were published in Oral Oncology Reports on October 28.

The U.S. National Cancer Institute estimates that 54,000 new cases of oral and pharyngeal cancers will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2022 and 12,470 new cases of laryngeal cancers. Dentists can help prevent head and neck cancer by conducting exams at routine dental visits to detect cancer in addition to providing dental care.

"This may be particularly impactful in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many patients, especially those in rural or otherwise underserved areas, have been unable to access dental care," wrote the study authors, Nadia Debick and Roger Wong of the State University of New York Upstate Medical University in New York.

Researchers sought to learn more about the association between the time since a person's most recent dental exam and the diagnosis of head and neck cancer. They examined data from the 2019 and 2020 National Health Interview Survey, a nationally representative sample of noninstitutionalized adults in the U.S.

The primary independent variable was time since the last dental exam, and the outcome was a head and neck cancer diagnosis. A total of 7,924 adults were included in the study.

"There was a significant association between time since the last dental exam and diagnosis of head and neck cancer," the study authors wrote.

Those who had not had a dental exam within 10 years had 2.1 times significantly higher odds for a diagnosis of head and neck cancer compared to those who had visited the dentist within the past year. The findings are consistent with the literature that suggests poor dental hygiene, including infrequent dental visits, may lead to a higher likelihood of head and neck cancer due to inflammatory and microbial mechanisms.

"Routine dental care and optimal dental hygiene thereby may reduce the risk for development of head and neck cancers," wrote the study's authors.

Research indicates that patients may not seek medical attention for head and neck cancers until overt symptoms develop. Dentists can help prevent head and neck cancer by direct visualization and palpation of regional lymph nodes.

"Dental professionals can help reduce morbidity and mortality associated with head and neck cancer by promoting primary dental preventative care, performing biopsies of suspicious lesions, and facilitating referrals to head and neck specialists," Debick and Wong concluded.

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